READY TO DIE FOR JESUS IN JERUSALEM
Acts 21:1-40 K. V. 21:13
“Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”
Have you been totally ready for something very important? Like your finals or a job interview? I remember how nervous I was the day before my PhD defense. So much so that I couldn’t even sleep. Perhaps, I was not ready. In this passage, Paul shows his utter readiness for his mission. He said he was ready not only to be bound but also to die for Jesus. In fact, from this chapter on to the end (total eight chapters), Paul would be in chains all along. No one wants hardships like imprisonment or even death. But how could Paul be so much ready? May God bless us to be like Paul so that we might be ready-people for Jesus!
1. Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem (21:1-15)
Last week, through Dr. Jason’s message, we heard Paul’s touching farewell address at Miletus for the Ephesian leaders. Paul encouraged them to be shepherds for their flock and entrusted them to God and His words. From Miletus, Paul and his company wasted no time to sail to Cos and beyond (Rhodes and Patara) to eventually reach Tyre. It was about a 400 mile journey. In those days, the fastest transportation was using ships. When talking about ships, you might imagine a “Royal Caribbean cruise,” sightseeing here and there including a beautiful island, Cyprus, on one’s way, but actually it was a perilous voyage with a smaller boat that required more than five days. After arriving at Tyre, Paul must be tired. However, he did not relax. Instead, he looked for disciples there and began a mini week-long Bible conference. Look at verse 4. What was the closing message of the mini conference? “Don’t go to Jerusalem!” Note that it was through the Holy Spirit that the disciples’ urging came.
How come the Holy Spirit was in conflict, then? Previously, it was the Holy Spirit who compelled Paul to go to Jerusalem (Ac 20:22). Now, the same Holy Spirit is saying that Paul should not go? Really? Perhaps, the Holy Spirit did not actually discourage him to go. The Holy Spirit only revealed to the Tyrian disciples that Paul would face dangers in Jerusalem. With that revelation, the disciples simply wanted Paul to avoid troubles, out of their genuine concern for him. To me, it is a truly beautiful scene to take note of. This reminds us of a beautiful spiritual fellowship between Elijah and Elisha.
When Elijah was done with his prophetic duty and was about to be taken up to heaven, his follower, Elisha followed him to the end and never wanted to let go of him. Two separate groups of prophets from Bethel and Jericho came to Elisha and told him that Elijah would be gone. Elisha hushed them and continued to follow Elijah until the last minute when he was taken to heaven by a chariot of fire. When Elijah was gone, Elisha cried out, “My father! My father!” Elisha truly loved Elijah. Likewise, all of the Tyrian believers including wives and little children truly loved Paul and did their best to send off Paul’s company to the remaining journey. That is a genuine love relationship. That type of fellowship we miss.
I remember the time when I was about to be sent as a missionary. In Kyungsung Center, I used to lead a music team and as a leader I was like a drill sergeant to the members. I broke many members’ heart. So I thought the music team members would love that I’d be gone. On the contrary, however, they were very emotional at that last Sunday worship service time. Somehow they knew that it was genuine love and genuine fellowship.
Look at verse 7. We can see Paul never stopped encouraging brothers and sisters even for a day-long visit to Ptolemais. In verses 8 and 9, we see again Paul having a fellowship with Philip in Caesarea, which was the provincial capital of Judea. Philip was one of the Seven chosen to handle the food distribution at the early Jerusalem church (Ac 6:5). After that, Philip would go around and serve the Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch and the other regions until he settled down at Caesarea. Note that he had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. Philip’s evangelistic life style greatly influenced his children and they also became great Bible teachers. Perhaps, the daughters shared all the untold stories about their father did with Luke so that he might write about him in detail in the book of Acts. Here we can learn that early Bible study is too early. Godly children learn a godly life from their godly parents. We have four teenagers who participate in our inspiriting music ministry. May God bless our children ministry so that they might learn their Lord early enough and become influential Christian leaders.
Look at verses 10 and 11. Agabus the prophet came from Judea and prophesied again. He previously foretold about a severe famine over the entire Roman world (Ac 11:28). He now predicted that Paul would be bound and be handed over to the Gentiles. Agabus even used Paul’s belt to visualize his arrest. It was an act of symbolism, which many prophets had adopted (like Jeremiah’s following God’s direction about a linen belt (Jer 13:1-5)). Some might say, whenever Agabus opened his mouth, he said all bad things. However, at least we know that Agabus was a true prophet because whatever he said came true.
What did Paul’s coworkers react toward Agabus’ prophecy about him? Look at verse 12. “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.” All of them like one person begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem. We can understand why they were pleading with him like that. Many times, Paul’s coworkers saved him from dangers. In Damascus, when the Jews tried to kill him, the disciples lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. In Ephesus, when the riot was at its peak, Paul tried to appear before the rioters, but the disciples would not let him. It was their good intention to protect Paul from real dangers. They would say if Paul would be spared, more Gentiles would be saved through him. They would also say Paul should write more inspiriting letters to the generations to come. There would be dozens of other good reasons that they would say about Paul’s not going to Jerusalem.
But what did Paul say about it? Verse 13 reads. “Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’” Note Paul’s coworkers wept for Paul and that broke Paul’s heart. It reminds us of the women weeping for Jesus when he was carrying his cross. Despite their weeping, Paul clearly told them how much he was ready for anything for Jesus’ sake. He was determined to go to Jerusalem no matter what. How was it that Paul was so much ready? I suppose that through years of his life of mission and his relationship with the Lord, Paul accumulated experiences and prepared himself accordingly.
How many years do you think Paul served his ministry up to that far? It was probably about 20 years. Paul started testifying to Jesus briefly in Damascus. After three years of break, he was called by Barnabas to serve Antioch church. At the Holy Spirit’s prompt, Paul began his three missionary journeys. It took about 15 years. During his missionary journeys, he suffered so much. He was almost stoned to death. Time and again, he was forced to leave the place where he just saw the great work of God beginning and yet his enemies opposing him severely. With all those years of suffering, however, Paul must have grown stronger and bolder. He no longer feared any suffering. He also deepened his relationship with his Lord. The more he worked for the gospel, the better understanding of the gospel he could grasp. He became more selfless but more Christ-centered. Galatians 2:20 truly sums up about Paul’ inner character: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Because of all these, he could be more than ready.
On March, 1981, at the Washington Hilton Hotel, President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded by John Hinckley who wanted to impress himself to an actress. At that moment, no one including the president himself was aware that the president was shot (the bullet was really close to the heart) but somehow he could arrive at nearby George Washington University Hospital. What was impressive about the hospital was that through years of experiences, the emergency room was totally ready for treating such a wound. All the operation rooms in the ER had the exact same setting with everything in place and that all the equipment was at the close ranges. With such total readiness, even though the president lost half of his blood, he could finish the surgery less than 30 minutes and could survive.
With the readiness like Paul’s, I pray that we may be ready to serve the gospel work in COD and beyond. I also pray that we may be ready to serve ISBC for the advancement of the kingdom of God.
Look at verse 14. Paul’s determination rather persuaded the people around him. They could only pray that the Lord’s will would be done in and through him. So Paul was heading toward Jerusalem (15). This would be the fifth (and final) time Paul would visit Jerusalem after his conversion. He would bring the gifts of the Gentiles believers to Jerusalem church.
2. Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem (21:16-26)
Look at verse 16. Finally, Paul and his company arrived at Jerusalem. Upon arrival, some Caesarean coworkers guided Paul to the home of Mnason. Why Mnason’s house? Perhaps, Mnason was a very influential figure in Jerusalem church. As you can see in verse 17, the brothers and sisters warmly received Paul’s company. Where? It was very possible that those brothers and sisters from Jerusalem church welcomed Paul’s company at Mnason’s house. Our COD coworkers are meeting at Dr. Jason’s house. It’s very impressive!
Verses 18 and 19 show how Paul and his company met James and the elders. Paul greeted them and had a short world mission report in front of them. Paul was ready for that! After hearing Paul’s report about the Gentile ministry, all of the elders including James praised God. At the same time, the elders did not hide their greater concern. It was about Paul and about their own flock. They suddenly mentioned about the thousands of Jewish believers and their zeal for the law. As much as they loved Paul, the elders also loved their flock. But there was a glaring issue about between the two. Verse 21 well describes about that matter. “They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” Even though the Jewish believers accepted the gospel and became followers of Christ but they did not arrived at the full realization of the gospel. They still followed the Law of Moses very diligently. With that, they might be in an odd situation with Paul due to misinformation and misunderstanding about his ministry: that Paul discouraged circumcision and Moses among the Jews.
So, what did the elders propose for Paul? Look at verses 23-25. They asked Paul to take four men with him so that he and four other men would purify themselves according to the Nazarite law. In that way Paul would publicly demonstrate that he was a law-abiding Jew. The Nazarite purification rites were very expensive and took seven days. In the rites, there were five offerings (sin offering, burnt offering, fellowship offering, grain offering and drink offering) along with three different animals to sacrifice (a lamb, an ewe lamb and a ram). On the seventh day, they would shave their hairs and burn them as a symbol of purification and re-commitment to the Lord. Now how could the elders think that Paul, a self-supporting missionary, was rich enough to pay for all those expenses? I suppose even if it was expensive, it was a necessary procedure to clarify Paul’s position in terms of the law.
Verses 26 and 27 show how Paul nearly made the purification procedure. But that was not the end.
3. Paul’s Arrest at Jerusalem (21:27-40)
Look at verse 27. Some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul and made a false accusation on him claiming that he brought Greeks into the temple. They had their false assumptions about Paul. Just because they saw Paul being with Trophimus the Ephesian in the city, should they think he brought Trophimus into the temple? They just wanted to believe what they wanted to believe.
How did the crowd react? Luke, the author said that the whole city was aroused. It was sort of hyperbole but it might have been true. Paul was dragged and was almost killed. But God worked hard to save Paul’s life. The commander of the Roman troops intervened in the situation and at least saved Paul from being killed by the mob. That commander’s name was Claudius Lysias (Ac 23:26). The commander had thought him to be an insurrectionist from Egypt, who three years before had escaped. But Paul clearly told him that he was a Roman citizen and that he wanted to address the violent crowd with a message. He used his Roman citizenship to serve the gospel. In this way, Paul demonstrated his courage and determination to preach the gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem. His heart was like that of Moses who was heart-broken for his people.
In conclusion, we learned Paul’s readiness for anything for Jesus’ sake. His many years of experiences made him stronger and bolder to serve the gospel no matter what. And he became closer to Jesus in heart and soul. That was why he was ready. May God bless us to be ready-people like Paul so that we may serve ISBC with total readiness.